RamView, 8/19/2006: Texans 27, Rams 20 (Long)
RamView, August 19, 2006
From Row HH
(Report and opinions from the game.)
Preseason Game #2: Texans 27, Rams 20
The Rams showed some flaws from last season this week, and took a fairly big step backward from last week in areas like rushing and penalties. But when you get right down to it, when one team plays its starters a quarter longer than the other team, that team should win. And Houston did, 27-20.
Position by position:
* QB: When Marc Bulger (7-13-86) wasn't throwing to Torry Holt, he was utterly unimpressive, downright rusty even, which I didn't expect by this point of training camp. He led the Rams on a FG drive in the 1st, but no more, thanks both to pass protection breakdowns and some poor throws to open receivers. I hope Marc is still getting revved up, or this season's going to take a baffling turn. He was "off" for an unexpected amount of his playing time tonight. Gus Frerotte (7-11-93) didn't move the team much right after he came in, getting passes batted down at the line on back-to-back drives. Before he left the game early in the 3rd, though, he led the Rams to their first TD. After Frerotte, Dave Ragone (9-11-76) made tonight's opening statement in the #3 QB debate. He took the Rams on two scoring drives using dinks, dunks and scrambles. Ryan Fitzpatrick's stats (5-10-59) weren't quite as good with the last-stringers, but it's hard to win an argument with a Harvard man. Fitzpatrick showed some tenacity for staying in the pocket and finding an open receiver, where Ragone is still much more likely to try to take off and run. Ragone also nearly repeated last week's end zone interception, not a good trend for someone trying to win a QB job. Fitzpatrick still holds a decent edge here.
* RB: As has happened too often in recent seasons, the Ram running game got next to nowhere tonight, barely cracking the 50-yards-total barrier. Steven Jackson (4-10) didn't get much of anywhere and Tony Fisher (3-2) made even less headway. I wouldn't accuse Steven of dancing around the subject tonight, either; he just wasn't getting any running room. Moe Williams (5-13) lost the ball on the first play of the second half, setting up a Texan FG and giving Rams Nation something it really doesn't want to see from its likely goal line/short yardage RB. Fred Russell (7-23) scored a TD and had the run of the night, abandoning a sweep right and cutting back behind a key block by Ben Noll for 14 yards. John David Washington had a chance to tie the game late from one yard out. Showing courage under fire, he decided not to run as an inside man, but tried to show he got game, running outside like a man on fire. But Sam Cowart got him, and JD was out of time, fallen before he got the chance to run to glory.
* WR: Tonight's WR performances served largely to prove that Houston DB Philip Buchanon is really, really bad. Although he forced one fumble and recovered another, Buchanon also committed blatant pass interference against both Dominique Thompson (1-16) and Shaun McDonald (4-50), big plays of both Ram TD drives. Torry Holt had 4 catches for 48 yards before leaving the game with a rib (sternum --Mike) injury. On the final drive, Clint Solomon dropped a chance to tie the game, while in three chances Marques Hagans had a 19-yard catch, failed to get to a ball he should have known was coming, and couldn't get a high Fitzpatrick end zone pass for a game-tying TD (uncalled pass interference didn't help any). Dominique Byrd got the most work at TE, with three catches, all as the third-string TE. #1 TE Joe Klopfenstein bailed Holt out by falling on Torry's 1st quarter fumble. I'd like to see Klop get a lot more action than tonight, though, if he's going to be the starting TE when games start to count. I don't believe he had a ball thrown his way.
* Offensive line: Orlando Pace and Claude Terrell were in street clothes, with Todd Steussie starting at LT. Bulger took two huge hits while he was in due to problems picking up the blitz. On the first, Jackson just completely gave up Marc's blind side to go run a pattern; he has to at least get a chip on that play. The second hit and only sack of Bulger also came off a blitz, and this time, I don't think Jackson blocked the right guy. He blocked to the inside, which left Klopfenstein to pick up the outside blitzer from the other side of the formation. Joe couldn't make that difficult play. Marc didn't have huge trouble other than that. There were only four running plays for the starters, so there's little to judge. The couple of times Jackson got stuffed, Houston really controlled the line of scrimmage. Drew Strojny was your backup LT this evening, and he did Grant Williams' old #77 jersey proud, getting completely overmatched by Houston's starters. Antoine Peek whipped right around him and Jerome Collins, who maybe should have, oh, I don't know, blocked or something, to sack Frerotte late in the 1st half. That was also a bad drive for Blaine Saipaia, who committed an unacceptable two penalties. Strojny only fared a little better in the 2nd half; a lot of the heat Ragone ran from came from that side. I'm still impressed with Mark Setterstrom. Any time I checked, he'd driven his man farther downfield than anyone else. Ben Noll threw a good block to spring Russell on his long run, Dominique Thompson downfield, too. Problems with the blitz and difficulty establishing the run, though, are holdover problems from last year that need improvement.
* Defensive line/LB: Nobody looked near as good as last week, and while some of that comes from Houston staying with its starters longer, it's still disappointing because the Texans have been one of the league's worst blocking teams. With Leonard Little out, Victor Adeyanju started at right end, Anthony Hargrove at left end. Hargrove didn't last long before getting injured. Adeyanju wasn't the pocket crasher he was last week, but he did seem to draw a lot of double-teams. The Rams got to David Carr with a couple of blitzes. Pisa Tinoisamoa got through for a big loss on the opening drive. Corey Chavous lost a sack later due to the freaking tuck rule. Pisa's was the team's only sack, though, and that's just not going to cut it in the regular season. I didn't see Brandon Green or Brian Howard as significant factors. Matthew Rice probably did benefit from Tim Sandidge's play last week, because this week, Sandidge barely got to play, and got double-teamed when he did. And Rice wasn't a big factor. Claude Wroten couldn't duplicate his big game from last week, either. He tied up blockers at the line but didn't get anywhere near the penetration he got last week. He seemed to get a lot more snaps than last week, too, which makes me think the coaches also thought tonight was a letdown for him. Jimmy Kennedy stuffed several runs early, but the Rams didn't have a good night against the run, allowing 140+yards. (I know, better than many games last year.) The Texans ran successfully at Green and Howard, and there were issues in the secondary. The one series I iso'ed on Will Witherspoon didn't go well; he blew a tackle on a TE screen and got stonewalled by a lineman for a good 10 yards of Wali Lundy's 21-yard run in the 1st. Jason Fisk did some good work inside, and Jon Alston really stuffed a Vernand Morency run early in the 4th. He was injured late in the game, though. We didn't see much of what made the defense look so good last week. The DEs didn't do well against the run, the backside pursuit wasn't there, LBs weren't greeting the runners in the hole, the DTs didn't get push upfield, and the secondary had some slipups. The matchups were against the Rams for a good chunk of the second quarter, but it'll be vital for the defensive players to find an extra gear for Sept. 10.
* Secondary: Safety depth stuck out like a sore thumb on three big plays. In the 2nd, Morency ran right over Dwaine Carpenter at the goal line for a short TD, earning Carpenter the Massengill Player of the Week award. Please buy some Thin Mints or Samoas from Dwaine next time you run into (or over) him. Morency exploded for a 43-yard TD in the 3rd, as Carpenter got blocked aside and Jerome Carter got caught way up and out of position. Jerametrius Butler probably was, too. In the 4th, Deandre Eiland made sure Carpenter wouldn't be alone on the safety cut list, getting torched by Derrick Lewis for a 44-yard TD. This came one play after Alston blew coverage on TE Bennie Joppru for 26. Those plays detract a lot from an otherwise decent night in the secondary. The starters tackled well. Carr passed off a lot of short drops, and the Ram DBs limited the damage. Tye Hill broke up a pass in the end zone early in the 3rd to save the Rams 4 points. As the starters get more PT than the reserves, secondary is an area that ought to become a strength for the team.
* Special teams: Every week it's a new problem with special teams. This week, punt coverage, as Buchanon totaled 71 yards on 3 returns, with a long of 33. Matt Turk kicked the hell out of the ball, averaging 54 with a long of 59, and I will not accept that he's at fault for the long returns, as radio postgame suggested, because he outkicked the coverage. Everybody else in the league can cover 50-yard-plus kicks without giving long returns; the Rams should, too. Turk was most certainly not kicking line drives – get your asses down there! Amazing how much better punt coverage is when you don't let the blockers beat you down there. Kickoff coverage was quite good, and Brad Pyatt had a couple of good kick returns. Marques Hagans had a couple of poor returns, and if he's going to start running sideways like Shaun McDonald on punt returns, I don't really need him around, potential or not.
* Coaching/discipline: The Rams unofficially ran 47 pass plays and 27 rushes and forfeited a timeout early in the second half after a lost challenge… who's the head coach again? Not that it's bad for Scott Linehan to keep everyone guessing as to how much he's going to run or pass on a given night. Plus I suspect there was extra passing tonight because there were no healthy fullbacks to participate in the run game. And I really can't call challenging the Williams fumble a bad move when the referee can't get a decent angle on the replay. A lot more penalties this week – I count 12 for 94 yards. Also a couple of fumbles, though the Rams only lost one. And the Ram defense didn't force any. I doubt it helped much having 9 days between games. The one bit of Linehan trickery I can recall didn't go well. A reverse to Dane Looker lost 10, not helped by a poor exchange with Ragone or the huge upfield push by the Texan D.
As I've already been mentioning, the key coaching decision of this game was that the Texans played their starters till halftime and the Rams pulled their starters shortly into the second quarter. That's not a knock on either team. But it's worth pointing out that their first string scored 10 points on the Ram second string. Which makes this game fiercely difficult to evaluate in many ways. The one thing I would like to see a lot more of next week: the Ram starters.
* Waiver bait: Dwaine Carpenter should send a card to whoever changed the first cutdown limit to 75 this year. That'll probably draw him an extra paycheck he doesn't deserve. Same for Eiland. Strojny totally lacks the footspeed to play tackle. Saipaia will have to hope Claude Terrell goes on IR and the Rams keep nine offensive linemen. He's ninth at best, behind Steussie, Setterstrom and Turner. Belying the draft day hype, Hagans isn't a better returner or receiver than Brad Pyatt. Though he hasn't looked bad, Andy Groom is getting beaten pretty soundly by Matt Turk at punter, based on game performance, at least.
* Upon further review: Peter Morelli had the call tonight. I (and Rickey Proehl) say Hagans got grabbed in the end zone on the Rams' final play, but it wasn't called. I'm also going to conclude Morelli didn't have a conclusive angle of Moe Williams' fumble; I sure couldn't find one. They didn't let any obvious holding go on, and the roughing-the-QB calls look right on further review, so it looked like a solidly-officiated game.
* Cheers: Bigger crowd than last week, if not noticeably better. I estimate 40-45,000 showed up. The crowd was noisier than last week at times but was still nowhere near as "into" the game as it needs to be for the regular season. Halftime was once again pee-wee football. Had to be older kids this week, since they could actually play defense, especially #1 in blue and gold, who was so all over the place I nicknamed him "Boucher". I think the long pee-wee TD runs got better crowd response than anything the pros did. I forgot to mock the T-shirt girls last week. They were trying to slingshot shirts into the crowd, but they didn't have the shirts balled up tightly, so they'd open up right away and fly about three feet. This week they broke out the heavy artillery with the T-shirt grenade launcher. Now, did I ever mention I hate when teams throw or fire T-shirts into the crowd? Because humanity still hasn't evolved past the point of acting like overbearing morons at the prospect of getting a 5-dollar T-shirt for free? Now I have.
* RamView update: With luck, I will get through the last two games of week 1 of the Preseason Challenge today and have something up on that today or tomorrow. The 2003 archive will also hopefully be up later this week…
* Who’s next?: The Kansas City Chiefs haven't looked like much so far this preseason, but, hey, you can throw out the records when the hallowed Governor's Cup is on the line. Sarcasm aside, this is usually the big week of preseason, the week the starters play the most, and the Rams have got some work to do. I'd like to see a lot cleaner play out of Marc Bulger, for starters. The Rams also need to get the running game going again. The Texans ran well on the Chiefs in week 1. Now's the time for the starting offensive line to show whether it can dictate the game to the opposing defense. With Dante Hall returning kicks for the Chiefs, it's also the time for special teams players to show they ought to be on the final roster.
As for the Ram defense, the secondary should be fine, but it'll be valuable to see how the starters hold up under extended minutes, also how Jim Haslett uses Butler and Hill. It'll be more valuable to see how the Ram run defense stands up to Larry Johnson, one of the elite RBs of the league. The Chief run blocking doesn't look as strong this year – they've lost Willie Roaf and Tony Richardson, and they've got Kyle Turley at left tackle, for crying out loud – but they ran effectively in Houston and Turley seems to have his act together for the moment. The Chief offense may have less flair with Herman Edwards in charge, but they've been used for some time to taking the ball and running over you with it. So now's the time for the Ram defense to show they've taken at least a step up from last year. Sure, the result don't count and the games are derided as meaningless, but as the main regular season rehearsal, next Saturday's an opportunity for the Rams to establish credibility and a winning regular season attitude. A solid effort would be a good kick-start for the regular season.
Game stats from nfl.com
Re: RamView, 8/19/2006: Texans 27, Rams 20 (Long)
Thanks as always mike for the well thought out detailed analysis. One thing jumps out at me (the game wasnt on tv in atlanta) and that is steven jackson not picking up the blocks on the pass rush.
This is an area of his game that needs a lot of work in my opinion and this is all about making sure he knows his assignments and works on his technique. Lord knows he is big and strong enough to get in the way of any number of pass rushers and blitzers if he is committed to doing so.
People talk all the time about our O line and protecting bulger and that makes perfect sense. However, the back picking up the blitzer is often times the critical element in whether a play is succesful, let alone whether the qb gets creamed.
ramming speed to all
Re: RamView, 8/19/2006: Texans 27, Rams 20 (Long)
It was preseason. And plus, we usually do have a bad game in a season, maybe we had it in preseason this year.